How Do You Know It Is Time To Leave?


I would never pretend to know the will of God for leaders. Indeed I am reticent even to suggest these reasons lest someone grasp one or more and leave his or her position of leadership prematurely.

Nevertheless I interviewed dozens of leaders I respect. One of the simple questions I asked them was: How did you know it was time to leave your previous position of leadership?

Their responses were fascinating. I have attempted to synthesize their most frequent answers into five succinct reasons. Excluded are those situations where a leader was forced from his position.

1. The Death of a Vision

The most frequent response was the death of a vision for the leader. The reasons the vision died were numerous. One leader said the obstacles in the organization became so great that he could no longer lead with vision. Another said that entrenched policies of the organization were counter to his vision. In every case the leader felt grief because the vision that caused him to get up each morning with enthusiasm was no longer a reality.

2. An Awakening to the Bad Fit

Some leaders come to a point in their leadership where they realize that they do not have the skills, temperament, or desires to lead their organization. Many said that the organization changed after a period of time, and their profile no longer matched the position. Others noted that they had not kept pace with external changes sufficiently to lead effectively.

3. Losing a Power Struggle

One of the unfortunate realities of leadership is the power struggle with another leader or group. And if a battle is lost, it is often difficult to regain the stature necessary to lead effectively.

4. Family Issues

A number of leaders told us they made the decision to leave for the sake of their families. The specific family issues were almost as numerous as the respondents. One leader recalled the sad story of his son being bullied at the only school in the small community. Despite his pleas and protestations to teachers and administrators, the bullying continued. The leader left for the safety and sanity of his son.

5. The Vision “There” Is Greater than the Vision “Here”

I thought this reason would be the most frequent; instead it ranked fifth among the reasons to leave. Stated simply, the leader has another opportunity, and the vision for the new opportunity becomes greater than the vision of the present opportunity. The leader’s heart has already moved to another place.

This list is obviously not exhaustive. Why did you leave your previous place of leadership? Would your response fit within one of these five categories?

Life is too short to spend time in a place we shouldn’t be. Yes, transition can be difficult, and even risky. But the greater risk is wasting our lives in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sometimes it’s time to leave.


This article comes from Baptist Press. Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. Used by permission.


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About Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at

  • Wade Hodges

    Great article!

    I cover several of these reasons and many others in my ebook: When to Leave: How To Know It’s Time to Move On (Before You Stay Way Too Long)

    Sometimes knowing when to leave is harder than figuring out where to go.

    • Agrace

      I am not a Pastor however I have been an Armor Bearer for a couple Pastors and all very successful in life and ministry. However, what I come to realize is that ministry moves on far before the Pastor leaves. Passing batone if I spelled it correctly is difficult when it helps to sustain a life style or financial security net. Neither do may Pastors prepare the body for a early home going and leaves the church without a Pastor recommendation. Awesome topic sir.

  • Stratopastor

    I had one of the 5 reasons listed here and mentally wrote a resignation letter every day for two years, but felt the Lord telling me to hang in there, in fact for several years; then one day my wife and I knew some kind of tide had turned in heavenlies. Despite the circumstances being unchanged and despite our preparedness to hang in there for another 10 years (=retirement age) if necessary, it was specific word from the Lord that gave the timing. Now with hindsight we can see the timing was exactly right for our new pastorate. I want to say ‘amen’ to this article but would add something about specific guidance, whatever medium the Lord might use to speak to us.

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